Friday, August 29, 2014

Laid To Rest

Michael Brown was laid to rest on August 25th, 2014 in a service attended by thousands of well-wishers including members of Congress, a representative from the White House and Obama administration, renowned civil rights leaders, film director Spike Lee noticeably in attendance, the parents of Trayvon Martin, and the children of Dr. Martin Luther Jr.

Among these many, many people who traveled into Ferguson to pay their respects, hip hop artists Talib Kweli & Rosa Clemente who speak out on Ferguson in this short video clip:


Below, Ferguson residents share the common experience of being racially profiled by police, and in an area where that profiling also provides a major source of funding for the city budget.  At around 8 minutes into the video, residents also confront Mayor Mike Knowles about a city which he has described as having "no racial divide," while the individuals speaking to him obviously feel differently, along with many of the thousands of protesters of all races and backgrounds, and over the last few weeks.


Below, the extended video coverage of the much discussed death of Kajieme Powell (alert: graphic, disturbing images) - a young Saint Louis man, distraught and seemingly suicidal after attending his mother's funeral that day; i.e. he went into the street shouting "Shoot me! Shoot me!" and, indeed, the police very quickly shot him, on the rationale that he was holding some kind of knife, which I understand was a kitchen or butter knife, if you could even see that item in his hand.  This young black man was also shot repeatedly, and then, in an even more surreal moment in the video, the police handcuff his dead body - ever more graphically demonstrating a total failure in human perception with respect to the real risks involved.  (And since obviously a dead body poses no risks requiring handcuffs .. unless we're watching ...  a Steven King thriller?)  It's as if the police are completely on automatic pilot - like Robo Cops - fully divorced from reality.  Rather than responding as the trained peace officers we should be able to expect, with community relations skills, psychology training and deployment of critical thinking.


In which case, what could that scene look like, instead? 

Discussion by Thom Hartman on how U.K. police disarm individuals holding knives, and even machetes;  i.e. for the most part, non-violently - working to first defuse the situation, giving the individual a certain amount of supervised space, versus closing in - which escalates and mounts tension - then engaging in conversation and trying to get the person to voluntarily put down any possible weapon, and before they move in to disarm - in which case, they use non-deadly means such as tasers or pepper spray/mace, not gun fire.

Indeed, lawyer Mike Papantonio, Ring of Fire radio host points out just how rapidly these officers reacted with gun fire to Kajieme Powell - within about 15 seconds of their arrival, he was dead.  He describes this as part of this "Rambo mentality" that we "cook up" like something out of a Bruce Willis or Rambo movie.  It's not based on a realistic assessment of threat leading to an appropriate form of police response.  It not only demonstrates what many describe as a total failure of communication, it shows this total failure of perception.  We're watching police officers - people in our society vested with a tremendous amount of public trust - yet, in this case, they appear to be functioning in the equivalent of a fantasy world - more like a Hollywood action film than real life.

Back in the Michael Brown story, a minor who wasn't armed, and who was, at the most, jaywalking, a grand jury of nine whites and three African Americans now meets to determine whether or not Officer Darren Wilson should be indicted on criminal charges. (And, as also discussed in the Thom Hartmann segment.) 

An indictment requires that nine reach the same conclusion - that Wilson "knowingly caused death to Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager."

The grand jury meets once a week and is expected to need weeks or months to reach a conclusion.

From ABC 7 (includes video at link)
How much justice can we expect coming from a grand jury, since the prosecuting attorney not only decides what evidence is presented, what charges are considered, who testifies, and - to top it off - instructs jurors on applicable law?
"A prosecutor can get whatever he or she wants out of that grand jury," said [law professor Byron Warnken] - and that, he says, makes for perfect cover for a prosecuting attorney, especially one confronted with a racially charged case. He can blame the grand jury for the final decision.

So, Michael Brown's body was laid to rest this week, but what will happen in America, and in the months ahead, with this issue? 

8.29.2014 Editor's Note. This blog piece contains several minor editorial corrections.

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